SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – We’re into baseball’s post-postseason silliness now. It’s Awards Week (presented by somebody-or-other, no doubt).
Look, I know the whole debate about who should win the Cy Young or the MVP or the Fireman of the Year (do they still have that one?) is mostly meaningless–unless you’re the ballplayer with the fat postseason award bonus in your contract.
But baseball fans love nothing more than a good loud debate, and nothing says “sports bar argument” like the battle over something like an MVP award.
All cards on the table: I still think one of the all-time great ripoffs was in 1972, when Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton was denied the NL MVP award. Oh sure, they gave Lefty a Cy Young after he won 27 games and posted a 1.97 ERA. But I’ve always argued: who could have been more valuable to his team than a guy who won 46% of his team’s games? That’s right, the Phillies were awful in ’72. They won only 59 games, and Carlton won 27 of them! Apparently, the voters were swayed by Johnny Bench’s league-leading HR and RBI numbers, and the fact that his Reds won the pennant.
So yes, I may march to a different beat on this issue, and it’s probably a good thing I don’t have a vote. Still, the notion that a Most Valuable Player should come from a winning team is deeply-embedded in the mythos of the sport. I don’t get it.
Take this year’s AL MVP award. It’s basically a two-man conversation: Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Anaheim’s Mike Trout. Yes, I know: Cabrera won the Triple Crown and the Tigers went to the World Series while the Angels didn’t even make the playoffs.
But you don’t have to dig very deeply to at least challenge the notion that Cabrera was the more-valuable player in 2012. For starters, Cabrera beat Trout in the batting average race by .004, which means that a swing of 3 hits between the two players would have given Trout the batting title and denied Cabrera that gaudy crown.
Take away that magical phrase, and what does that leave us? A slow third baseman with maybe-average defensive skills vs. a game-changing baserunner who’s already among the best centerfielders in the game.Trout stole 49 bases in 54 attempts, led the major leagues in runs scored (129 in just 139 games), and established himself as the scariest leadoff hitter in the business–at age 21. Cabrera? Well, he did lead the majors by grounding into 28 double plays.
In short, a big, plodding masher against a five-tool guy. You can go a lot deeper on this with the advanced baserunning and fielding stats now available (in fact, Nate Silver does so here), but you’re just adding frosting to the cake. If you think Cabrera should win the MVP, you’re buying (on some level) into the old “his team was a winner” idea and maybe (on some level) into the mythological thrill of a Triple Crown.
Two final thoughts (and yes, I am aware that Cabrera will undoubtedly win this thing): the Angels did win more games than the Tigers (89 to 88). And really, who would you choose if you could only have one of them on your roster? That’s my MVP.